I recently complained about how the AP religion writer Rachel Zoll presented a distorted image of the views of people of faith in the United States by equating "believers" with the Religious Right and making no mention of the diversity of thought that exists among religious people. Media Matters has now published a study that documents the way that this skewed and inaccurate depiction is generally propagated by the news media. Some of the findings of the study are summarized as follows:
Religion is often depicted in the news media as a politically divisive force, with two sides roughly paralleling the broader political divide: On one side are cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs; and on the other side are secular liberals, who have opted out of debates that center on religion-based values. The truth, however is far different: close to 90 percent of Americans today self-identify as religious, while only 22 percent belong to traditionalist sects. Yet in the cultural war depicted by news media as existing across religious lines, centrist and progressive voices are marginalized or absent altogether....The study also points out that
* Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.
* On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable news channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
* In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.
in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.